It seems that every day there is another tweet or news notification about a town, city or community becoming ‘dementia friendly’. Alzheimer’s Society has set out their five year strategy which includes the movement towards dementia friendly living; encouraging communities to take greater steps towards empowering people with dementia; enabling them to feel more confident and more included in society. A powerful step in recognising that it’s not necessarily the condition or diagnosis that creates a barrier, but society itself that does this. And this social model, this school of thought, should surely apply across society and for all those with different needs and diagnoses. It’s wonderful that Alzheimer’s Society are raising awareness of the need to improve inclusion of a particular group within our community and with such apparent fervent uptake from people within these communities. But this should be the starting point to becoming a more inclusive society generally. “If only we could put ourselves in the shoes of others to see how we would react” wrote John Howard Griffin (2009, cited in Krznaric, 2014, p.76) “then we might become aware of the injustice of discrimination and the tragic inhumanity of every kind of prejudice”.
In the UK alone there are an estimated 1.2 million people who use wheelchairs (taken from 2000 NHS purchasing supply, so likely to be much higher); 1.86 million people with sight loss (2012); 9 million people who are hard of hearing (RNID, English Federation of Disability Sport, 2015) and 985,000 people with a learning disability (Key facts about disability, 2010). Further to this 1 in 4 British adults experience at least one diagnosable mental health problem in any one year (Mental Health Foundation, 2015) Our society – on a large scale and on an individual basis – needs to become more aware, more understanding, more accommodating and much more inclusive. In the UK at least, we have wealth to make this a reality and not just in financial terms. We have the skill set and training of leading technologists, architects, health professionals, teachers and professors. We have a wealth of charities and advocates for specific illnesses, diseases and disabilities and, most importantly, we have a wealth of people who are living with those illnesses, diseases and disabilities who we need to listen to and include in moving towards the creation of not just Dementia Friendly Communities, but People Friendly Communities.
English Federation of Disability Sport (2015) Facts and Statistics Available at (http://www.efds.co.uk/resources/facts_and_statistics) [Accessed 08/01/2015].
Griffin, JH (2009) (cited in Krznaric, 2014) Black Like Me. London: Souvenir Press, 2009
Krznaric, R (2014) Empathy: Why it Matters and How to Get It. New York: Penguin Random House Company, 2014